Just before I start to recount any story about Hamburg, there is a pause, a smile, as I am momentarily lost in my own reminiscence. We were destined for love, Hamburg and I. Long before I ever stepped foot off the train, I knew she would be the girl for me. I thought of Hamburg as a seedy tart, a wild and sinful city, full of reckless abandon. Sex and drugs and rock and roll! Debauchery at its finest, at its most pure, and I was right (Danke Gott). But I was to learn she was so much more. So very, very much more. Hamburg isn’t a tart…she’s a lady.
I arrived June 1st and by all Indian accounts, it was still freezing cold. But I’m Canadian,so, like the Germans, all I felt was a brisk and lovely late spring day. I was struck immediately by the charm of the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. It had a certain antiquity about it, something the chrome and glass station in Berlin was missing. This structure had almost lost its life in WWII, but managed to survive a direct and fairly lethal Allied bombing raid.
After disembarkation…I absolutely adore that word, I chuckle every time I hear it used. Airports, train stations, bus terminals….It just sounds so much more serious than it actually is. As if you are recounting some horrific accident or life threatening surgery…. “after disembarkation from the still smoldering and twisted wreckage of this horrific train derailment” when all you are really saying is, “hey man, I got off the train”. I digress, so after disembarkation, it was off to the Hotel Hafen in St. Pauli.
This hotel is the place to stay when one is in Hamburg, in my humble opinion. Originally built in the 1850’s as a hospital for sailors but has also been used as a school, a storage barn and a training centre for the Kriegsmarine. It even stood eerily vacant for some time in the 70’s, there have been some interesting days at the Hafen! But all that aside, it overlooks the St. Pauli’s Landing Pier, The Port of Hamburg, St. Pauli Elbtunnel, it is a five minute walk from The Reeperbahn, they give you an apple a day in your room AND a free rubber duck in the bathtub. In a word, perfect. (Oh and they make the best hamburgers, no pun intended, in the city in the Hafen Dinerburger Bar).
I immediately wanted to wander around St. Pauli’s Pier and gape in wide eyed wonder at the ships. Salt water is in my blood after all, I need to stay true to my sailor lineage. Now, there are some instructions involved here should you be planning to follow in my footsteps. As you cross the road to the
Landing Terminal, there is a kiosk on your right. Stop at it, buy alcohol, and do a shot of Jägermeister or Feigling with whoever is working in there. Tell them Mrs. R sent you, they’ll know. Resist the urge to run to The Hard Rock Café, (that is now within earshot) you can do that a bit later and proceed to the pier on your left to purchase a fresh (made right there on the dock) banana and nutella crepe. Eat it in two bites. You are now free to wander the numerous souvenir shops, look at the ships and boats, go back to The Hard Rock, people watch and soak up the atmosphere. But most of all just dig the fact you are standing at the end of the River Elbe, gateway to the North Sea and soak in all the history that goes with that. I also strongly recommend a harbor tour before you bug out of Hamburg.
Wandering the city centre of Hamburg is like stepping into a paradox, going down the rabbit hole so to speak.
Hamburg is a delightful mix of modern culture and historic identity. You half expect to see a Deutscher Ritterorden (German Knight) standing at an ATM or a Die Herren im weißen Mante sipping a stein of beer at Schumachers Biergarten. Oh!! The beer halls, how could I have not mentioned them yet…… the brew pubs, the beer gardens and the trendy clubs are too bountiful to mention. There are lots of guides available to help you sort out where you want to experience some of the finest beer in Europe. Beware of beer hall exploration! This activity can be very tricky, what you thought may only take an afternoon, turns into three days and a whale of a hangover.
There is no real plan of attack for sightseeing Hamburg, at least for me. Just allow yourself to be leaf blown through the centuries in a whimsical, non chronological fashion. There is WWII evidence about should you wish to see it, just subtle reminders, but there is far more of the glorious majesty of Hamburg to savor. Wander the side streets, shop the shops, stroll in the parks, jump on the public transit and ride the elevated metro along the docks!! Don’t miss Außenalster Lake, St. Michaels Church, Hafen City, St. Nicolas Church, The U-Boat, Hamburg Rathaus and Beatles Platz. Too many things to list, really….and of course The Reeperbahn, which I will blog about another time.
The point of Hamburg is this. The city can morph and twist into whatever suits your needs. A raucous night of partying and rock and roll?…done. An elegant and sophisticated evening filled with fairy lights, fine dining and theater?…step right this way Madam. Refinement, culture, fun and intrigue…it’s all here. It is definitely worth a wander. Just one more thing, don’t miss the Herring in Sour Cream and Apple Strudel on The Rickmer Rickmers museum ship, because that mien freund, would be as criminal as Klaus Störtebeker……